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Last Updated: Friday, 27 April 2007, 10:14 GMT 11:14 UK
Anger at Pakistan burka play ban
Women wearing burkas
The play is a satire on the wearing of burkas
The head of a Pakistani theatre company whose play about burkas was banned by the government has said that she is hurt and astonished by the decision.

The government banned the play because it said that it made "unacceptable fun" out of Pakistani culture.

Madeeha Gauhar, head of the Ajoka Theatre group, said that there was nothing offensive in the production against Islam or any other religion.

She said that she was being pulled up for "promoting moderation".


Complaints about the issue came to light after Islamist MPs raised the issue in parliament on Thursday. They complained that the play was against "Koranic injunctions on the veil".

"The veil has long been part of local culture and nobody is allowed to make fun of these values," Minister for Culture Ghazi Gulab Jamal said.

Madiha Gohar
We never expected this from President Musharraf's government
Ajoka head Madeeha Gauhar

The satirical play Burqavaganza was staged this month by Ajoka Theatre group in the eastern city of Lahore, known as the country's cultural capital.

The government announced an immediate ban, and stopped it from being staged in other cities following the end of its run in Lahore.

The BBC's Syed Shoaib Hasan in Karachi says that the play is a parody on the burka - the enclosing garment worn by conservative Muslim women.

Pakistan has stringent laws for blasphemy against Islam or the Prophet Mohammed with a maximum penalty of death.

"They have committed blasphemy against the Holy Prophet", Razia Aziz, a conservative female parliamentarian told the assembly.

But the Ajoka Theatre group has said that it has not received any official notification of the ban.


"We have just heard the news from the press... the government has not contacted us so far," Ms Gauhar said.

She said told the BBC that while she was not surprised that hardline Islamists had raised the issue, she was "astonished at how the government has reacted".

Ms Gauhar said that the Ajoka theatre group was one of the oldest in the country, and had faced censorship before, particularly during the military government of General Zia ul-Haq.

"But we never expected this from President Musharraf's government", she said.

Members of the Ajoka Theatre group in a play about family planning
The Ajoka Theatre group tackles controversial social issues

"They have promoted arts and artistes so far, in line with a policy of enlightened moderation.

"The government now appears to be going back on its own policies.

"These are ominous signs for Pakistan.

"We are trying to end the evils from society, we are against forcing women to wear the burka. I condemn the ban," she said.

Correspondents say that the play reflects what many see as the aggressive behaviour of the burka-clad students attached to Islamabad's Red Mosque.

Baton-wielding students of two schools linked to the mosque have launched "morality patrols" targeting music and video shops and local brothels.

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